“Y-you…!” The gasp was accompanied with a violent cough of blood.
A crimson stain had begun to veil itself over the Elezen’s vision as he feebly attempted to twist his body, but every motion he made caused something on his person to scream in painful protest. His breathing was ragged, his eyes fluttering rapidly in an attempt to blink away the blood that pooled above his eyes. He couldn’t see exactly where he was wounded, but he could feel his life ebb away like loose sand washed away from the shore. Though it required every ounce of effort he could muster, the Elezen managed to reach a hand towards his face to rip his Wailer’s mask off of his face.
Though he found naught to greet him but a merciless metal edge.
The towering figure drove the honed blade deep into the Wailer’s skull, the impact making contact with a sickening crack. An irreverent boot found itself on the unfortunate Elezen’s neck, and some grunts accompanied the spilch of the weapon being violently extricated from the cadaver. The wooded copse had fallen eerily silent now. Though the sun had breached the apex of the horizon and its argent companion would soon be making its ascent into its star-scattered shroud, not a peep could be discerned from either brush or branch. No owl cried out its jeers and no beastkin dare made itself known to the bloody scene, perhaps out of respect for the dead.
The imposing assailant sniffed the air before glancing down at the dark ruby splotches that darkened the blued steel of his weapon. The gleaming emerald outline of the Xaela’s eyes shimmered in the dusk with equal parts contemplation and disdain at the sight around him. Two other bodies besides the one beneath his feet lay sprawled amidst the grove. A female Midlander was missing an arm and a leg, and another male Elezen sported an impressive gash across the whole length of his torso.
The Xaela brushed a gloved hand through jet black locks, fringed with streaks of deep forest green. His square jaw was firmly set, with lustrous obsidian scales adorning rust red skin, and his face seemed permanently fixed in an expression of humourless severity. A thick tunic of pale fur wrapped itself around his muscular frame, with his left shoulder exposed for freedom of movement, guarded by a metal pauldron. To call Kasrjin Khadai “austere” would be to call a glacier somewhat lethargic, and it was with a deliberate sweep of a clump of grasses that the Xaela did his best to clean the blood off of his weapon.
He’d been avoiding the more obvious signs of civilization–roads, blazed trails, and so on–in an attempt to avert this exact kind of situation, and yet somehow the inhabitants of this wood had managed to find him. Kasrjin’s thin mouth stretched into a frown and his head swiveled to examine his surroundings. Every single area of this wood looked like the last area; a tall canopy of trees enveloping the forest floor like a cloak. Every now and then a shrub would rustle or a bird would chirp, but otherwise there was very little with which he could ascertain his location or direction. Every turn he had made thus far into the wood had lead the Au Ra in circles, loops, twists and turns.
Kasrjin’s gaze fixed towards the three mangled bodies behind him. Hiding or burying them was pointless; if they had managed to track him, then it was possible that more were coming. Even so, certain preparations had to be made, least of which was a meal with which to sustain himself. Tied to the Xaela’s back with small lengths of hempen twine was the carcass of a small doe. If memory served, it was for this that the other three had pursued him for–the taller, sharp-eared male had pointed at it and shouted before running forward with a spear in hand.
The Xaela’s mouth twisted in thought. Perhaps they held the animals sacred, or perhaps he had trespassed unawares. Regardless, if his intuition was correct, those individuals had been doggedly pursuing him for at least a full sun now, but even so, he needed to eat. Kasrjin lumped the body of the doe onto the ground and laid his long sword to rest at his side as he knelt down pulled out a knife appropriated from one of his assailants. Getting rid of the carcass was impossible, but the least he could do would be to harvest what he could from it before night fell.
As he set the knife about the doe, the Xaela glanced at his surroundings again. Though the bodies would have to be moved, the copse made an ideal camp site, although his frown deepened when he spotted the dried trail of blood that lead directly into the grove. That could cause problems, especially if the masked warriors who had attacked him were accompanied by a larger group. Still, the grove was somewhat isolated and the approach to it was a hill, though not as steep as he would have liked.
Would that a Nayantai be here, though the back of his mind knew that skilled hunters as they were, the Nayantai worked best in familiar territory, and this intimidating maze of timber and flora could not be called familiar to the best of them. How any of the denizens manage to navigate this labyrinth was beyond him, though he supposed that featureless expanses of ice and winding mountains would just be confusing to them as these woods were to him.
There had been a road some suns in the direction Kasrjin had come from, yet even as the Xaela carved into the doe’s body, he could not be certain that he’d be able to find the road again.
Such was the nature of hindsight.
Flanks of raw meat appropriated from the doe, Kasrjin set about removing the bodies. Each of the armored forms had any useful objects appropriated from them and unceremoniously shoved down the hill some ways beneath the grove. One of two things would happen. Either none came, and the grove would be a safe place to sleep…or more assailants would appear, in which case the sloping hill and the isolated grove would prove to be an ample place to stage an ambush.
The Xaela wrapped the meat in large rawhide squares before shoving them into a furred pack, and started to make his way further up the hill.
With luck, the night would bring no surprises.